Most people have a fear of disappointing others, but the trickiest situation of all (in my opinion) is when we disappoint ourselves.
Disappointing yourself can make you question your ambitions, your self-worth, and your abilities. It can make you feel both queasy and uneasy, like being stuck at the top of a roller coaster or eating that leftover sushi you definitely should have thrown out days ago.
Maybe it’s because only we know our true potential—and not living up to it invites unpleasant emotions like shame and fear and guilt to the party. Or, maybe it’s because we know we’re the only ones who can free ourselves from the sinking feeling—and it’s a daunting task.
The good news: There’s a tool that can help us when we’re clinging to disappointment. It’s called self-compassion.
Research shows that “people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better—they have less of a physical stress response when they are stuck in traffic, have an argument with their spouse, or don’t get that job offer—and they spend less time reactivating stressful events by dwelling on them,” writes Carrie Dennett in The Washington Post.
Here’s how to pick up and move out of “I’ve let myself down” land after disappointing yourself.
1. Accept What Happened
It’s part of grief, a part of life, and yes, a part of disappointment. The first step to getting over your self-shame is to simply accept what went wrong. Avoiding or glossing over it won’t help you move on.
If you need a good long cry, go for it. (Been there.) If you want to wallow for a few hours, you’re entitled. (Been there, too.) But then it’s time to brush yourself off and declare exactly where things went off the rails.
Simply saying out loud to yourself, “I’m disappointed because I didn’t meet the goal I set for myself,” might make you see that this big issue actually isn’t the overwhelming monster you believe it to be—it’s actually a series of events that you can learn from.
2. Treat Yourself Like a Friend—Not a Frenemy
It’s easy to judge yourself in these situations, but let’s take one or two steps back and find a new perspective. If your friend came to you with the same issue—she was disappointed in herself for not having a stellar quarterly review, or bombing her open-mic night—what would you say to her?
Probably not, “I’m so disappointed in you. You can do better.”
Rather, you’d be supportive and kind and listen to exactly what went wrong. Treating yourself and your disappointment like a close friend can help ease the blame and help you exercise more self-compassion.
3. Recognize Your Big Expectations
Disappointment is directly tied to the expectations we place on ourselves. It’s a tale as old as time—you can even trace it back to your childhood.
I’m going to sell 1,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies today!
I’m going to win the Spelling Bee!
I’m going to take first place in the 400-meter dash!
It’s not that high expectations are a bad thing—by all means, reach for the stars! Sell the cookies! Ask for the definition to that noun! Run until your lungs burn!
But making sure you’re prepared is an important way to protect yourself from future disappointment. Consider whether your expectations were aligned with how ready you felt for that moment.
4. Distract Yourself (in a Healthy Way)
If you’re feeling disappointed, it’s only natural to want to reach for something to cheer you up. Hello, full weekends binge-watching Killing Eve. There’s nothing wrong with either of these tactics, but when you engage in them mindlessly to soothe your nerves or a troubled mind, it can often only lead to a negative feedback loop.
Instead, distract yourself by treating yourself to something different. Carve out an extra hour to crack open that book you’ve been dying to read, or call an old friend and catch up, or go for a walk to the nearby botanic garden.
Do something that stimulates your mind. Experiencing the world around you will make you remember that this, in fact, isn’t the end of the world.
5. Ask Yourself the Right Questions
There are so many lessons to learn from major and minor failures or little blips of disappointment. The first major lesson? You know what not to do next time. When you’ve passed the “acceptance” stage, start to figure out where things went wrong by asking yourself the following questions:
●︎ Did you give yourself enough time?
●︎ Did you do the necessary prep work?
●︎ Did you set clear boundaries?
●︎ Did you ask for help?
Digging in to these questions will expose any of the flaws in your plan. Instead of saying, “Oh well, I guess it didn’t work out the way I wanted to,” or beating yourself up, you’ll be armed with knowledge and be able to pivot.
6. Adjust for Next Time (and the Time After That)
This oft-quoted statement might give you some comfort: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” But see, now you’re not going to do the same thing over and over again! You’ve learned from this disappointing experience!
Asking the right questions and understanding where your plans went off the rails is crucial to plotting your next big endeavor.
Instead of vaguely saying, “I’ll do better next time,” find the next similar deadline or event on your calendar right now. (Go on, we’ll wait!) Then ask yourself, “Am I fully prepared for this?” Chances are, you can use what you learned to dig a little deeper, research a little more, or ask for help if you need it.
7. Realize This Is All Just Because You Care
Ah, yes, the most important lesson of all: The thing about being disappointed is that it reveals what you actually care about. You wouldn’t be feeling so upset if you weren’t invested in the outcome, and that in itself is a great thing. Disappointment can act like a radar system, pinpointing exactly where you are—and where you want to be.
While you might feel like shying away from it if things aren’t turning out your way, listen to your instincts. You’re disappointed because you care, and that passion is what will keep you moving forward.
When you take the time to learn from your disappointment, you’ll be more prepared than ever before the next time that presentation or conversation or dance battle comes up.
Disappointment, you’ve been warned.
Freedom of thought. Food and shelter for all. These are universal human rights. Should we add the right to healthy gut microbes to this list? A new PLOS Biology paper argues that access to healthy gut microbes, for example via access to fiber-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, should be a human right. This is based upon mounting evidence that our gut microbes are critical to our health and longevity. Learn more in this blog post about microbiome inequality and how it compounds income inequality, how you can feed your healthy gut microbes on a budget, and what we can do to make fresh foods more broadly accessible. Give to your local food bank today!
Many aspects of your life affect the types and diversity of microbes in your gut. Your early life conditions, current diet, stress levels, living environment and many other factors help determine the types of bacteria and other microbes that are living in your intestines.
The collection of microbes living in a person’s gut is known as their microbiome. Each person’s microbiome looks a bit different – sometimes very different – than the next person’s. But in general, a more diverse collection of microbes in the gut is a signal of a healthier gut. A diverse collection of gut microbes protects a person against infection and inflammation. There are also certain species of gut bacteria that are known to have positive health benefits. These include species of bacteria that eat and thrive on plant fibers that we humans couldn’t otherwise digest.
“Daily, we encounter millions of particles of bacteria, fungi, and viruses, as well as archaea and protozoa, and trillions more live on and in our bodies.” – Sue Ishaq et al., 2019
Your gut microbes can impact your health in many ways. There are an increasing number of research studies that link the microbiome to metabolic health, inflammation, allergies, cognitive health, mental health and more. Your gut microbes might even impact how you age.
While a healthy gut microbiome protects you from disease, a gut microbiome that is disturbed, lacks diversity or contains too many “bad” microbes and too few “good” ones may put you at risk for obesity, diabetes, anxiety, depression and brain aging. We know this from many animal studies and some human studies. Mice raised in a lab such that they don’t have any bacteria in their guts (called germ-free mice) have health, psychological and cognitive problems. These mice even make fewer important brain chemicals called neurotransmitters (like GABA and serotonin) that are important for brain cells to communicate with one another. This is because gut microbes help create many of these neurotransmitters, as well as many other chemicals and hormones important to health.
However you look at it, a healthy gut microbiome is essential to your overall health and longevity. But how do you get a healthy gut microbiome? There are many factors that affect your gut microbiome or the number and types of microbes living in your gut. Some of these factors you don’t have any control over, such as how you were born (a vaginal birth provides a baby with a very different set of microbes than a cesarean birth does) and what types of microbes you are exposed to in your living environment. On the other hand, you most likely have control over other factors that affect your gut microbiome in important ways, particularly your diet.
“Diet is the biggest driver of your gut microbiome, and the fiber content in your diet is a huge driver,” says Dr. Sue Ishaq, a microbiologist (a researcher who studies microbes) and an assistant professor at the University of Maine. “Out of all the gut-related information that you could possibly find on the internet, getting enough fiber is the one thing that is always correct in terms of your gut microbiome! This is well-established in the scientific literature. If you do nothing else, try to get good fiber and a variety of fibers, from grains but also from green leafy vegetables and other plants.”
For example, high fiber foods like whole grains, legumes (think beans and peas) and bananas feed Clostridium, Eubacterium and Butyrivibrio bacteria that in turn make an important short chain fatty acid called butyrate. Butyrate has been shown to protect the brain from injury and to help it learn and adapt to its environment. Butyrate created by fiber-munching bacteria may even change what genes are turned on and off in your brain, turning on genes that protect your brain cells from stress, death and damage. Butyrate is also a source of energy for your brain cells and can boost the function of your brain cells’ energy powerhouses – their mitochondria. When your brain is protected from stress and when it can produce and use energy more efficiently, it can simply work better. So when you are on a high fiber diet, your brain probably works better.
In one study, children on a higher fiber diet had better memory and were better at multitasking and staying focused on a task.
“High fiber diets have numerous reported health benefits in reducing risk of type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, obesity, stroke and cardiovascular disease, making it a widely recommended healthy diet. Many of the reported effects have been associated with the microbiome and its ability to produce SCFA, like butyrate.” – Bourassa et al., 2016
But despite the power of a high fiber diet to help people recruit healthy gut microbes, there is one big downside to it. It isn’t available to everyone.
The problem with a high fiber diet is… access.
Today there is an exploding amount of online information and advice about fiber, probiotics and other microbiome-boosting foods and supplements. But much of this content sets up a false narrative of control over one’s own gut microbes and thus health.
Many people today are turning to probiotic supplements in hopes of building a more diverse and healthy collection of microbes in their guts. Some of these people might turn to probiotics as an alternative to fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly if they are picky eaters. But probiotic supplements have yet to show widespread positive impact on people’s guts. Most probiotic supplements contain only a few species of bacteria that may or may not help diversity a given person’s collection of gut bacteria. Probiotics also cater primarily to people with money to spend on health foods.
Fresh foods – and a rich variety of them – are a far better source of healthy gut bacteria than any single probiotic supplement is. But here also exists a problem of access. A huge number of people don’t in fact have much to any control over the types of foods they can buy and eat. Many people, including people close to you or perhaps even yourself, don’t have access for one reason or another to fresh fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables that can feed and help grow healthy gut microbes.
“Variation in diet has been linked to variation in the gut microbiota of humans, with low food diversity and fiber-poor diets (e.g., the Western diet) reducing gut microbial diversity and functionality.” – Sue Ishaq et al., 2019
Many bacteria, one microbiome: Is a diverse microbiome a human right?
In an essay published in PLOS Biology last week, Dr. Sue Ishaq and colleagues – including students who took a special topics microbiology course taught by Ishaq at the University of Oregon – argue that access to healthy gut microbes should be a basic human right given how important these gut microbes are to our health.
Diet is a very important in determining what kinds of microbes live in our gut. Part of its importance comes from the fact that we can control and modify it – theoretically. In reality, many people can’t afford or don’t have easy access to the foods that recruit health-promoting gut microbes.
“Diet, as well as medications and other things that you are putting into your body, is really important in driving your gut microbiome,” Ishaq said. “Whatever it is that you are eating is going to recruit [your gut microbes]. If you don’t have access to fiber especially but also fresh foods in general then you can’t recruit [the healthy microbes that thrive on these foods]. There are people who are suffering the effects of a microbiota they’ve recruited because they don’t have a choice [over what they eat], because they don’t have access to healthy, fiber-rich foods.”
There are areas in all major U.S. cities where people would have to walk many miles to find anything other than fast food. These areas are known as food deserts. They are areas in which access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited or even nonexistent. When and where people in these areas can find fresh fruits and vegetables, they may not be able to afford them or may not choose to purchase them for a variety of reasons.
People living in low income communities may not buy fruits and vegetables because they spoil quickly and they are heavy and awkward to carry on the often long walk home from the grocery store, says UK food scholar Dr. Megan Blake.
“People just aren’t as enthusiastic about [fruits and vegetables] as they are about other foods, and it can be difficult to get their children to eat them,” Blake said.
A poor diet, especially if it is low in fiber, can have significant negative impacts on a person’s health, including their physical but also mental health. A diet low in fiber doesn’t recruit healthy gut microbes that eat this fiber. Especially when added to other stresses, such as financial and food insecurity, a poor diet can lead to an unhealthy gut microbiome and health issues including obesity, chronic inflammation and chronic disease.
“Lower-income communities have a higher prevalence of high-fat, high-sugar, or highly processed diets, with fewer dietary options, as this food is often cheaper and more accessible.” – Sue Ishaq et al., 2019
To recruit healthy gut microbes, a person also has to eat high fiber foods like fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, not just once in a while. This can be particularly difficult for people living in urban, food desert environments.
“Your gut microbiome is really reactive [to what you eat] – a consistent diet is the best way to stabilize your gut microbiome,” Ishaq said. “As humans, we tend to have strong food preferences and routine – we mostly eat a lot of the same foods every day. If you eat fast food every day, then an occasional salad probably won’t meaningfully improve your gut microbiome. But as long as you aren’t eating fast food every day, you can enjoy a Big Mac today and your normal [healthy] diet will still be able to re-recruit the bacteria that are normally in your gut.”
(Hopefully your “normal” gut bacteria are fiber-munching ones!)
“It doesn’t take long for your gut microbiome to change, but it takes time for it to stay changed,” Ishaq continued. “If you were to eat a salad, your gut microbiome would start changing immediately. But if you want that microbiome to stay and you want to recruit good microbes that are able to break down fiber and make a lot of the good byproducts that your body needs like short chain fatty acids, you need to eat that salad on a regular basis. Because if you don’t feed your healthy gut microbes [that thrive on fiber], they die out.”
When living in a food desert, buying fresh fruits and vegetables can be risky.
Dr. Megan Blake spends her time thinking and investigating ways to get more fruits and vegetables to people living in low income communities. This doesn’t just mean bringing more fruits and vegetables into food deserts, through food bank programs for example, but actually making sure that people in these communities are empowered to make healthy choices.
”People in their daily lives tend to think within a constrained set of foods – this is what is available to me – and within that constrained set they choose what they think is best within a given context,” Blake said.
Often, that context isn’t about making better health decisions. It may be about celebrating with family (over cake). It may be about what is easiest to carry home from the grocery store. It may be about getting the most food (and calories) that one can for a given amount of money. For example, even though most people enjoy fruit, people in low income communities often don’t buy fresh fruit because they see it as a luxury, not a need. While most people in low income communities seem to be concerned about eating better, they often aren’t able to make better food decisions due to financial constraints, knowledge gaps and other issues, including even fear.
“When you are on a very tight income, you may have a lot of fear about trying new things because if you don’t like them, if you don’t know how to cook them, if you don’t cook them well or your belly doesn’t like them, it wastes an important portion of your food budget for the week. It is a middle class affordance that if you try something and you don’t like it, you can call in a pizza and cook something different tomorrow. But we find that people are very conservative and risk averse around the foods that they choose when they have to pay for them [with a limited budget].”
Blake works with a food redistribution charity program that delivers surplus fresh foods to people in areas that could be described as food deserts. According to Blake, most people (75%) who have participated in the program have said that they were able to get more fruits and veggies into their diet as a result of this program. Thanks to the program, participants were able to try new foods without the risk of not like the food and wasting some of their limited weekly food budgets.
“Today, things like parsnips and avocados are foods that many people in poor income communities have never seen or tried before,” Blake said. If people don’t recognize these items as food they would like or don’t know what to do with them once they get them home, they certainly aren’t going to buy them. But Blake finds that when you remove financial barriers, most people are willing to try new foods.
On the other hand, it’s normal to have to try a new food several times before you begin to enjoy it. Fruits and vegetables in particular can be an acquired taste. It can even take some time for a person’s gut to adapt to the higher fiber content of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. This poses a problem for people in food deserts who may only rarely have the opportunity to try a new fruit or vegetable item. If they decide they don’t like it or find that the item upsets their stomach (which fiber can do for people who don’t normally eat much fiber), they are likely to decide not to run the (financial) risk of ever purchasing that food in the future.
“There are people who, if they have gotten an upset stomach with certain fruits or vegetables, will decide that they can’t eat those foods,” Blake said. “I think that there are a lot of people who assume that they have a physical disorder that prevents that from eating certain foods, as opposed to a temporary intolerance.”
Blake also described instances, in the case of school programs aimed at providing more fruits and vegetables to children, where parents complained that the food was making their children sick. This may be because the children were getting more fruits and vegetables in their diet than they were accustomed to, which can speed up the passage of food through the gut.
Educational efforts aimed at adults as well as kids can help people understand that the body needs time to adapt to higher fresh food and fiber content and that this adaptation process is normal and healthy. Without educational efforts, people may decide that they are intolerant to certain types of foods after trying them just once or a few times, even though their guts would adapt over time if they continued to eat these foods on a regular basis.
“If we aren’t providing healthy, fiber-rich foods in our schools, then we may also not be teaching kids healthy eating habits, and thus we are reinforcing poor diets and insufficient gut microbiota in certain communities,” Ishaq said.
We need to broaden access to healthy gut microbes – starting with mothers and children.
Health inequality is a global problem, yet it is a problem that every country and state must deal with itself. For most countries, overcoming inequality in health requires systemic changes in far more places than just health services. Child care, education, housing and working conditions, income and social networks all influence our diet and therefore our microbiomes.
Microbiome inequality begins as early as in the womb and continues through infancy, childhood and into adulthood. A child’s living conditions and their parents’ behavior in regards to diet, lifestyle and health impact the child throughout their life. The good news is that when society invests in childhood health, the rewards are larger than if investments are made later in life. This goes for our health in general, but also for our microbiomes.
An excellent place to start in creating more microbiome equality is in maternal healthcare and child care. For instance, studies from several countries have shown that mothers with fewer socioeconomic resources are less likely to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is important for its nutritional value, positive impact on the baby’s immune system and social development. But it is also important for the baby’s microbiome. Through nursing, a baby receives microbes from his/her mother and is therefore “colonized” by his/her mother’s microbes. Several factors influence a mother’s ability to breastfeed, including access to support, help and coaching from family or healthcare workers, access to parental leave or a working situation that allows for breastfeeding.
Quality child care is also an effective way to build healthy microbiomes. Child care facilities and schools that offer healthy meals of fruit and vegetables do an important job of building healthy habits (and microbiomes).
Higher education levels are also associated with better health (and healthier microbiomes) later in life. This is an important incentive for governments to invest in high-quality schooling for all children, which makes it more likely that they will complete higher education.
Overall, to broaden access to healthy gut microbes, countries as well as local communities will need to focus on removing systemic barriers as opposed to simply calling people to engage in healthier habits. Healthy diet or other healthy habit campaigns aimed at individuals such as mothers without acknowledging their challenges, structural and financial barriers can be stigmatizing, expensive and ineffective.
Diversify your gut microbes on a budget.
Are you on a tight budget but still want to support a healthy collection of microbes in your gut? As long as you have access to a modern grocery store, it’s fairly simple to feed your fiber-munching healthy gut microbes on a budget.
“While I was a graduate student, my income was fairly limited for a little while,” Ishaq said. “A friend of mine who was under similar circumstances was actually researching cookbooks – he sent me a book called Good and Cheap [PDF here]. The ingredients list for every meal is fairly short, the preparation time is short and the book does a good job of explaining cooking instructions in simple terms.”
A cheaper way to make meals that call for fruits or vegetables is to substitute frozen or canned items for fresh ones. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables also last longer and won’t spoil, lowering the risk that you’ll waste a tight budget on a food item that spoils before you have the chance to cook or eat it. Just look for frozen and canned fruits and veggies that don’t have any salt or sugar added.
Most studies have investigated the impact of fiber-containing whole foods (fresh fruits and vegetables) on the gut microbiome and health. That being said, canned and frozen vegetables are still vegetables, Ishaq says, and still contain fiber.
There are many different types of fiber. The gold standard is to get a variety of fibers into your diet. But any fiber is better that no fiber, Ishaq says. Fiber is a structural carbohydrate of plants – it is what gives foods like apples and peas their structure or shape. Fiber typically doesn’t get destroyed in cooking, canning or freezing these plants. So canned and frozen vegetables are good, budget-friendly sources of fiber if you can’t afford, don’t have access to or are uncomfortable preparing fresh vegetables.
On the other hand, processed plant foods often lose the fiber content that the original plants contained. This includes foods made from white flour, such as break and pasta. White flour is ground, bleached and radically transformed from its original structure (grains of wheat), which destroys its fiber content. So try to purchase plant foods you can recognize when possible, such as frozen green beans or spinach.
Are you buying fresh fruits and vegetables on a tight budget? Does your living situation prevent you from buying fresh fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis. You can buy fruits and veggies that last several weeks and that don’t spoil and waste your money.
Produce that stays good for a longer time (on the range of 1-2 weeks or longer) includes apples, pears, melons, raisins, bell peppers, cabbage, citrus fruits, oranges, potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, beets, pumpkin and squash (lasts between 2 and 6 months in a dark cabinet!
Remember that it is OK to try something and not like it. If you are buying a fruit or vegetable item for the first time, buy a small amount of it at first. If you don’t like it, you won’t be out a lot of money. If you think it’s ok or if you like it, you can buy more of it in the future and prepare a larger meal with it!
What can you do to help broaden access to healthy gut microbes?
Support local farmers’ markets and ask your local farmers’ markets to work with your local food assistance programs, Ishaq recommends. Support or help start a community or neighborhood farm. Ask your local government officials to mandate or assist local stores in carrying fresh fruits and veggies.
You could donate money today to help local food banks deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to communities in need. You can donate to Feeding America or a local food bank in your state/country.
Welcome back to Squat University! Last week we discussed how to teach the perfect bodyweight squat. We talked about a strategy to maintain stability during a bodyweight squat and that is holding our arms out in front of us. By doing this, it brings our lower back (lumbar spine into a good neutral position.
In order to maintain the integrity of our posture when we squat with a barbell we need to adapt our technique. A barbell places higher demand on our body to stabilize our trunk. In order to meet these demands we need to find a way to increase our stability. A stable core is the platform for which we can perform efficient powerful movements on.
The quality of our movement during the squat is dictated by how stable we maintain our trunk. A bare spine, without any muscles, is nothing but a stack of bones. Without the continuous collaboration of the 29 pairs of muscles that make up our trunk and the fascia that holds them together, the weight of our upper body alone would be enough to collapse our spine (3).
Very often, we see athletes believe that they can improve trunk stability through exercises such as sit-ups or crunches. In reality those movements build isolated muscular strength, not stability. There is a difference between strength and the ability to stabilize.
Strength is the ability to produce force. The harder you can push or pull a weight, the stronger your muscles are. Stability is the ability to resist movement at one part of our body while movement takes place around it. A stable spine resists being bent in two by the massive weight of the barbell.
Strengthening a stabilizer (such as the abdominal muscles with crunches or the low back erectors with endless hyperextensions) will not cause those muscles to necessarily stabilize more effectively. Core stability is the synchronous action of the abdominal muscles along with the muscles of the back, hip, pelvic girdle, diaphragm and surrounding fascia. When working together they keep the spine in a safe and stable position while we move. Therefore, core stability has nothing to do with how many crunches you perform or hypers off the glut-ham machine. The essence of stability is based on two things: timing and coordinated recruitment.
In order to recruit our core muscles prior to the squat the cue to “brace for a punch” is recommended. This action increases the stability of our lower back and locks it into a good neutral position. When we turn-on these muscles prior to the descent of the squat we proactively prepare our body to handle the load that we are trying to carry.
It is not enough to only brace for a punch when we squat. If you want to move massive weights in a safe manner you must also learn how to breathe properly. For too long, professionals in the strength and medical field have failed to incorporate proper breathing during lifts. Many have essentially approached our core like a balloon; trying to strengthen the outside rubber walls instead of learning how to increase the pressure within!
Fitness and medical professionals are taught, “Breathe in on the way down and breathe out on the way up.” This is fine for an exercise involving lightweight and higher repetitions (i.e., bench press 3 sets of 10 reps). This breathing mechanic however is not entirely recommended when performing the barbell squat. Can you imagine what would happen if a powerlifter let out his entire breath on the way up from squatting 1,000 lbs?
When we squat heavy weight with a barbell (for example anything over 80% of your 1 rep-maximum), it is advised to take a large breath and hold it through the entire repetition. Usually this type of breathing is not needed for higher repetition sets with low weight. However, when you are squatting heavy for a few reps it is crucial. This breath should be taken prior to and in coordination with the cue to “brace for a punch”. Doing so allows us to dramatically stabilize our core.
To learn how to properly breathe during the squat, try this simple test. Place one hand on your stomach and another on your side (near your lower ribs). Now take a big breath. If you did this properly you will feel your stomach rise and fall. You will also feel your lower rib cage expand laterally (out to the side). Essentially you are feeling the volume increasing inside your core. When we take a big breath the diaphragm just below our lungs contracts and will descend towards our stomach (1).
If you breathe improperly, you will instead notice the chest rise and fall. Breathing in this manner does little to increase the volume of our intra-abdominal cavity because the diaphragm is never fully utilized. So why is this rise in volume so important?
When we correctly breathe “into our stomach” and combine the action with bracing our core we find something special happens. With your hand on your stomach again, take a big breath one more time. After the breath is taken, brace your core muscles as if you are about to receive a Mike Tyson punch to the gut. Combining these actions increases the pressure inside the abdominal cavity (intra-abdominal pressure or IAP). This is because the volume can no longer expand.
This is because the diaphragm cannot fully contract and descend if the core is already maximally braced. Increasing IAP in this manner helps stabilize the lower spine to an even greater degree than with bracing alone (3).
To experience the connection between the pressure in your core and your overall strength, try this simple test. Put a barbell on your back and exhale all of the air from your lungs. Feel for how the bar feels on your back. Next, take a big breath and brace your core. Try to create pressure in a 360° manner around your core as if wearing a tight corset. Remember the breath must be taken to expand the front, side and back of our core. Do you notice anything different?
The weight of the bar should now feel much lighter on your back. Does it make sense that using this maneuver might have some application to lifting heavy weights in the squat? This is how the strongest weightlifters and powerlifters are able to squat tremendous weights without breaking in half!
Holding this breath during the execution of the squat will often cause a forced grunt on the ascent. This happens when we try to limit the natural desire to exhale on the way up. This forced hold is called the valsalva maneuver. Limiting our breath from escaping in this powerful manner is essential in order to maintain our spinal stability.
To perform the valsalva maneuver correctly, the breath is exhaled forcefully against a closed airway. This is where the saying “inhale on the way down and exhale on the way up” takes a turn. Exhaling a breath completely during the ascent of a squat can lead to a severe drop in IAP.
As the pressure in our abdomen drops the stability of the spine will decrease. It doesn’t matter how hard you brace your core muscles. If you let your breath out completely, you will instantly lose stability. This transfers harmful pressures onto the small vulnerable structures of the spine (intervertebral discs and ligaments). This is like letting the air out of a balloon too fast. As the air leaves the balloon it becomes less stable. The same goes for our body. However if we only let a small amount of air escape the balloon by maintaining our squeeze on the opening, the balloon stays stable for longer.
In order to keep the pressure in our abdomen and our spinal stability in tact, the exhale must be forcefully stopped from fully escaping. Essentially we need to keep our fingers on the opening of the balloon. There are different ways to do this. Some lifters will use a grunting method or a “tss” sound as they slowly exhale through a small hole in their lips. Both of these methods allow the pressure in the abdomen to stay at a high level during the entirety of the lift.
The breath should never be held for more than a few seconds during the squat. Doing so can dramatically increase blood pressure and cause black-outs and other cardiovascular injury for those at risk. While the valsalva maneuver (even when held for short periods) has been shown to cause an increase in systolic blood pressure, it is very safe for healthy athletes. For most this temporary rise in blood pressure is not harmful. That being said, it should be used with caution with older individuals and anyone with a history of heart disease (2).
A proper squat is all about maintaining proper spinal stability. When we combine the coordinated bracing ability of our core muscles and harness the power of our breath we allow our body to move properly and lift tremendous weights safely.
My favorite part about doctor office visits as a kid were pointing to the pain scale. I know, it might sound odd—but there was something so clarifying about picking out a number from 1 (no pain) to 10 (excruciating pain) and learning exactly where I stood. Being able to point out a cartoon face that mirrored what I felt helped me understand whatever it was I was going through.
But as an adult: There aren’t kind nurses holding up a series of emojis to help me understand where I’m at when it comes to my mental health.
For better or worse, that’s up to me to determine now—but it can be hard to decipher when so many things feel like major factors to a healthy life, and they’re all under siege.
This is particularly the case when it comes to feeling burned out.
Research uncovered that burnout doesn’t happen to someone suddenly, but rather over time—but it’s hard to notice the symptoms in yourself.
To help you pinpoint your own feelings, we gathered six of the most common feelings that are tied directly to burnout and what you can do to cope with them.
1. You feel overwhelmed by day-to-day activities
To-do lists can be stressful, and it’s totally human to feel overwhelmed by the day ahead of you. One of the reasons you might be experiencing stress is because you’re doing too much at the same time.
Multi-tasking might sound productive in theory, but research shows that it actually can decrease our productivity because of the “switching cost” we endure by ping-ponging between tasks.
Adding too much to our plates and the stress that comes along with juggling a lot at the same time is a sign that you might be experiencing burnout, too. There is such a thing as good stress, but burnout has a lot to do with unrelenting stress—and recognizing when you haven’t had time to take a step back is key to curbing burnout.
What You Can Do: Try taking on one thing at a time. Sandwich those “ugh” tasks with ones that take up less energy—and if you need to take breaks, that’s OK. Different to-do list hacks (like the 1-3-5 rule) can help ease some pressure, too.
2. You’re starting to resent people and feel disconnected from others
If you feel a bit of consistent dread creeping in when it comes to people you’re close with or things you’ve normally been interested in, that’s a key sign of burnout.
This can look different for everyone. For me, it might look like avoiding friends and family or certain social situations. I can also get resentful if I spend too much time on social media and get stuck in a comparison trap.
What You Can Do: While burnout is experienced by so many people, it’s easy to feel like you’re in it alone—which might make you try to isolate yourself even more. Try finding at least one person to connect with either IRL or online about the symptoms you’re feeling. That can make a difference in regards to how you interact with those in your life despite feeling burned out.
3. You find yourself getting easily irritated with people
Ever have those days where just the smallest thing can set you off? A quick-to-anger moment is never fun to deal with, especially if it isn’t part of your normal disposition.
Anger is a normal part of life, but burnout can make you feel irritated with those around you more often than usual.
What You Can Do: The first way to get through this feeling is to acknowledge it. Once you’ve sat in your feels, try pinpointing the bigger picture of what’s getting you worked up. Is it something external, like a comment made? Or is it something internal, like some negative self-talk? Boost your morale by diving into a gratitude exercise to remind yourself of the small things that make you feel good.
4. You feel extremely tired all the time
Research shows that insufficient sleep is a big factor when it comes to burnout, so taking steps to make sure you’re getting enough Zzzs can really help you curb stress. But we get it: Diving into sleep when you’re thoughts are at work or in a worry spiral isn’t fun.
What You Can Do: One thing you can do before you hit the hay is create a healthy space for your relaxation. That might mean not doing work from the comfort of your bed, and making your room a “sleep only” place with some comfortable blankets and essential oils. Diving into rituals before you sleep can also help your brain understand when it’s time to snooze. Try listening to a Shine Nightcap story to lull you to sleep, or do a quick stretch to relax your mind and body before you slide into the sheets.
5. You feel like you’re losing joy and motivation
Not sure of your “why” or purpose any longer? Burnout has a tendency of stealing that from you, and, in turn, stealing any motivation you might have.
What You Can Do: To combat this, first start by trying to do things without the expectation that you’ll be good or bad at it. Build up the muscles of doing things with a sense of mindfulness, and work your way to doing things that once made you happy. It can be as small as wearing your favorite socks or eating your favorite breakfast. But intentionally savoring small joys can increase your “joy frequency,” and ultimately, bring back a little motivation in your life.
6. You’re experiencing physical symptoms
There are a few symptoms that you might not realize have to do with burnout—like a loss of appetite, headaches, or nausea. These can be easy to mistake as normal physical ailments, but the remedy to them all lie in the answers above—particularly sleep.
What You Can Do: Taking time to give yourself mental health breaks and space to recharge can do wonders when it comes to letting your body heal from the effects of burnout. And if you can: Consult an expert—like a general physician or a therapist—to get even more support in coping with the symptoms of burnout.
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Life always presents struggles. When things seem hopeless, it’s easy to feel like the opposition to your goals will never stop. That opposition, however, can also breed the exact kind of action you need.
As a quote attributed to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius puts it, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Standing at a wall of opposition is intimidating, but it also creates motivation. Knowing the wall you have to climb can push you to find a way over it.
Conflict is never easy. It’s uncomfortable, stressful, and scary. Sometimes it can feel so overwhelming that you’re not sure how to keep going. However, if you can embrace the conflict that stands before you, accept the problem as it is and prepare to challenge it, you can find the way that you didn’t know was there.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”